May, 2004

Coping with cancer treatments

Foundation offers kids support for grueling battle ahead
By Erin Reep
Scottsdale Tribune

McKenzie Monks refused to wear a wig over her tiny, bald head.

As a 3-year-old about two years ago, she underwent chemotherapy for kidney cancer. Her parents tried to persuade McKenzie to wear a wig specially made for her.

But she preferred her own sense of style.

“McKenzie would go into her room, cover her hands in glitter and rub it all over her head,” her mother Denise Monks said, her eyes moist with tears. “She just wanted to sparkle.”

The Fountain Hills girl died in August 2003 at age 4. Her family wants to see that McKenzie’s spirit lives on through the McKenzie Monks Foundation, a nonprofit created to provide toys for children with cancer.

The foundation raised more than $400,000 at the McKenzie Monks Golf Classic and Evening Under the Stars on May 14th at FireRock Country Club in Fountain Hills. The event featured a golf tournament, fashion show, silent auction, dinner and dancing.

McKenzie’s parents, Richard and Denise, and her sisters, Michelle, 14, and Mandy, 13, will purchase toys, games, crafts and portable DVD players to fill suitcases for children in Valley oncology centers.

Called “Kenzie Kases,” the suitcases were an idea borne from McKenzie’s experience during cancer treatments, her mother said.

A photo of McKenzie as she left University Medical Center in Tucson shows her in a pink sweat suit, pulling a pink “Hello Kitty” suitcase filled with her favorite toys, art projects and movies behind her. It was taken after McKenzie’s stem-cell transplant in August 2002, her mother said. McKenzie had not been outside of the hospital in six weeks.

The Monks want to put DVD players in all Kenzie Kases to provide entertainment for the children, who experience pain and sometimes loneliness, Denise said.

Although lengths of treatments vary, some children undergoing chemotherapy and radiation spend hours, days and weeks hospitalized, said Steve Schnall, vice president of Phoenix Children’s Hospital Foundation. The suitcases will help children pass the many hours of downtime.

“The whole idea…is to provide a source of entertainment, distraction and activity,” he said.

Michelle and Mandy Monks missed more than 40 days of school to be with their sister as she underwent 10 surgeries, 50 radiation treatments, 11 months of chemotherapy and the stem cell transplant, Denise said.

The family also chose to care for McKenzie as she died, instead of opting for hospice care.

“Not every kid with cancer has their family with them every single moment of the day,” Michelle said. The Monks will begin distributing the suitcases at Phoenix Children’s Hospital on September 16, McKenzie’s sixth birthday.

Phoenix Children’s Hospital treats more than 100 children per year with cancer, Schnall said, adding the project will have a “tremendous impact.”